Everyone knows about football, but few of us necessarily think about its impact on mental health. Keiran from Student Minds Cardiff gives a run down of the mental health benefits of playing football, and why anybody can do it.
Football is the nation’s favourite game, which therefore means that finding a team or venue to play at should be easy indeed. But most importantly, it is simply great fun!
How can football improve somebody’s wellbeing/mental health?
I believe that many aspects of football can lead to the improvement of somebody’s mental well-being.
Firstly, focussing on the fact that football involves physical exertion, research has supported that physical activity, both mild and rigorous, can have positive effects on well-being. This has been concluded from surveys involving individuals with a diagnosis of mental illness, and those without diagnosis. The effects of exercise have been described as mentally relaxing despite its physical demands. A theory is that in a fast paced sport such as football; it is very difficult for players to focus on anything else but the present match. This may give the mind a break from the preoccupation of other everyday life stressors.
Secondly, another benefit of football is that it is a team sport. With the players of a team, there is already a commonality in which you all share, and therefore team sports can always be a good platform to meet new people and grow closer to existing friends. Statistics collected every year by student support services at Universities have reported ‘loneliness’ as being one of the major struggles faced by students, especially in first years. Involving yourself in a football team could easily facilitate new friendships.
The final aspect of football that I would like to mention is that football is a sport with a great capacity for self-improvement. Whether this be improving your skills or tricks, or seeing your team improve its position in the league. The feeling of development and self-improvement has been reported in research as being one of the indirect psychological rewards that people can feel from doing sport and exercise. It’s common for individuals, away from the team environment, to allocate time for their own training and practice also.
Do you have to be in good shape to play football?
Fortunately, football in the UK now exists in many different formats. These include; 7-a-side football, 5-a-side indoor football and the full blown 11-a-side outdoor football. Different formats have their different demands; the 5-a-side indoor format is often characterised by a smaller pitch and a shorter game length which is accessible by lots of people of any level of fitness. Then people can build up their fitness until they feel ready to participate in the more physically demanding 11-a-side game. It all depends on individual preference.
What misconceptions do people have about football?
The major misconception about football is that all football is played in the intense and often aggressive style of football observed on television. However, we must remember that the players we see on television are playing at the highest level, as professionals. A lot of us however have the luxury of being able to select what level of amateur football we wish to get involved in. Games at lower levels are often played in very good spirit at a leisurely pace that can be enjoyed by all. If it is the fast paced intense style that you are looking for however, there are also plenty of higher level amateur teams that play with almost the exact mind-set and ferocity as the pro’s!
The feedback after our event
From the feedback we received, it seemed that all the participants of the football tournament were grateful for the opportunity to get wrapped up in a sport they love, and take a Saturday off from pondering over work/dissertations etc. Fuelled by the food and liquid refreshments that we offered, they were able to play all day, as well as learning a little more about Student Minds than they previously did.
Taylor, C.B., Sallis, J.F., & Needle, R. (1985). The relation of physical activity and exercise to mental health. Public health reports, 100(2), 195.